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August 12 is International Youth Day, and the generation that will lead efforts to end hunger and poverty by 2030 is a large one. About one-fourth of the entire global population, or between 1 and 2 billion people, is in the age group 10 - 24.
Children and youth have higher rates of hunger and less opportunity to participate in national economies and politics. The obstacles are most daunting for young women, who face the double burden of gender discrimination and marginalization as young people.
The United Nations established International Youth Day in 1999 as a way of focusing on legal, cultural, and economic challenges specific to young people.
Today we highlight three stories from the 2015 Hunger Report that celebrate bold young women leaders who are confronting the social norms and discrimination that perpetuate hunger, poverty, and exclusion among young people and women.
Fouzia Dahir, whose mother never learned to read, sees education as a launching pad. Fouzia grew up in rural Kenya, where poverty and gender based violence meant that most girls never advanced beyond primary school. But her mother was determined. She escorted Fouzia and her sisters to and from school, even staying with them during the school day to ensure their safety and full participation in class. That personal investment paid off for Fouzia in big ways. She excelled at school and continued on through high school, college, and finally graduate school. She’s now the founder and executive director of the Northern Organization for Social Empowerment, a nonprofit based in Northern Kenya that aims to create livelihoods based on farming for women from pastoral backgrounds.
Sara Howard was elected to the Nebraska State Legislature in 2012 -- the youngest female senator and one of 10 women in the 49-member body. Sara feels she especially represents a younger generation of Nebraskans, with their concerns about student debt, low-wage work, and other issues that affect young people more than others. By the time Sara herself finished law school, she had accumulated more than $100,000 in student loan debt. Women use a greater share of their salaries than men to pay off education debt – not surprising since women are paid less than men. One result, however, is that women are less likely to raise the money to run for public office. Sara uses her position to help raise awareness and spur action on problems specific to women and young people.
Patience Chifundo believes there is no reason to deny women opportunities simply because they are women. Her mother lived this truth; she owned and drove a minibus, an unusual occupation for a woman in Malawi. Patience herself was a gifted student who began college at 15. She was the first female candidate for student body president. The discrimination and disparagement she suffered as a candidate fueled her determination to make things better for other female leaders. Though she never became student body president, Patience now works with the Young Politicians Union of Malawi, training women interested in running for elected office. They demonstrate how politics actually works at the grassroots level – and Malawi needs more elected leaders who prioritize issues such as children’s health and education.
Read more about young women leaders in the 2015 Hunger Report: When Women Flourish … We Can End Hunger.
By Derek Schwabe
This past Saturday, Bread for the World Institute held our first-ever bi-coastal (and second annual) vizathon to expose hidden hunger. The event, held at Bread’s offices in Washington, DC, and the offices of Macys.com in downtown San Francisco, brought together a diverse group of volunteer data heroes (statisticians, web developers, coders, designers, and data geeks) who gave their time, skills, and creative energy to help us visualize a widespread and growing kind of hunger: hidden hunger. We teamed up with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), who shared a rich new dataset that helped our volunteers tackle the issue from all sides. We were grateful to have two fantastic data facilitators who led the charge -- Jon Schwabish of HelpMeViz on the East Coast and Leigh Fonseca of LivingData on the West Coast. Here’s a storify-style recap of our exciting day of data storytelling:
Two Full Rooms Took on Two Forms of Hidden Hunger
Challenge 1, De-Mystifying Micronutrient Deficiency: Micronutrient deficiency harms one in two preschool-aged children worldwide, yet it’s impossible to detect by looking at a child. How can we make the damage caused by micronutrient deficiency visible?
Challenge 2, The Coming Obesity Pandemic: Obesity is hunger for the right kinds of food. In the developing world, we’ve seen steady progress against traditional forms of hunger, but obesity is rising rapidly. With it comes a proliferation of deadly non-communicable diseases. All too often, these don’t have treatments that are 100 percent effective, even in developed countries (e.g., heart disease, stroke). Poorer countries certainly do not have the resources to treat large numbers of patients with these conditions. Help us tell this urgent story.
Getting Started: A Deluge of Data
IFPRI introduced a dataset with household-level information relevant to both data challenges. Sara Signorelli of HarvestChoice, a project led by IFPRI, oriented the Washington, DC and San Francisco teams to available indicators such as those on micronutrient deficiency, dietary diversity, obesity, and body mass. The dataset was specific to Africa South of the Sahara. Signorelli pointed participants to HarvestChoice’s Mappr tool—a nutrition and agriculture data mapping app that lets users isolate specific indicators, years, locations, or groups. HarvestChoice also supplied even more granular datasets on Ethiopia and Malawi. The “vizathoners” had no shortage of data to sift through, but the real challenge was pulling out a story.
The Coasts Connect
By the time the San Francisco team was ready to jump into the data, the Washington, DC, group had already been working with it long enough to begin to notice trends, gaps, and roadblocks. We took advantage of the three-hour time-zone difference to give the two teams a chance to connect and learn from each other. Using Google HangOut, participants in Washington, DC, communicated their most salient findings -- and in some cases, vented their frustrations -- to San Francisco. Twitter was also a cross-coastal communication channel of choice.
Heads up SF #hiddenhunger - in the Malawi micronutrient dataset iron deficiency data may actually be sufficiency data— Siddharth P Kulkarni (@SidKulkarni88) May 30, 2015
Visualizing Answers...and more Questions
Once both teams had a few hours to explore the data, visualizations started to surface, highlighting fascinating trends and raising many new questions. Here’s a smattering of some of them:
The discoveries made and questions raised by vizathon volunteers will not be left alone. In the coming weeks, the Institute, IFPRI, and a smaller group of volunteers will process the day’s findings and start digging deeper. We’re excited to create opportunities for the teams to continue their work, which will (we hope) lead to visualization tools that will make hidden hunger impossible to miss. Stay tuned.
Check out HelpMeViz.com to see more work by vizathon participants, dig into visualizations in greater detail, or even play around with the data yourself. And be sure to read this post by my colleague, Robin Stephenson, in which she recaps the vizathon from her own first-time perspective and introduces us to some of the incredible participants!
Posted by Bread on June 04, 2015 in Africa, Agriculture, Asia, Assets for the Poor, Climate Change, Data to End Hunger, Development Assistance, Economic Development, Food Aid, Gender, Global Hunger, Hunger Hotspots, Hunger Report, Immigration, Inequality, Malnutrition, Maternal and Child Nutrition, Millennium Development Goals, Success in Fighting Hunger, Trade, Weblogs | Comments (0)
Melinda Gates announced a new foundation pledge of $776 million over a six-year period to fight malnutrition. Gates made the announcement June 3 at the European Development Days forum on development and international cooperation.
Gates said that efforts to end malnutrition are underfunded, adding, “I know of no other problem in the world that does so much damage yet receives so little attention.”
Malnutrition is the underlying cause of almost half of all preventable deaths of children younger than 5. Many millions more who survive—one in four of the world’s children—are stunted, meaning that early childhood malnutrition has permanently damaged their physical and cognitive development.
The 2015-2020 Gates Nutrition Strategy centers around five initiatives: country impact; new solutions; food systems; data, analytics, and evidence; and advocacy, policy, and alignment. The efforts will include reaching more women, young children, adolescent girls, and others at risk with proven solutions such as breastfeeding and food fortification, improving food systems so that people have better access to nutritious and affordable food, and support a data revolution in nutrition to strengthen the evidence for nutrition actions and track progress.
The Gates Foundation will focus its efforts on five countries that have both high rates of child malnutrition and significant opportunities to make improvements: India, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Burkina Faso.
Gates called on European donors to continue to support maternal/child nutrition efforts, particularly at the upcoming Financing for Development conference, to be held in Addis Ababa in July, and at the U.N. General Assembly in September, where global leaders will be finalizing targets and financial commitments for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs will set the global development agenda through 2030, including targets for reducing malnutrition and child mortality. The SDGs succeed the Millennium Development Goals (September 2000-December 2015).
Posted by Scott Bleggi on June 03, 2015 in A Climate to End Hunger, Africa, Agriculture, Asia, Assets for the Poor, Climate Change, Data to End Hunger, Development Assistance, Economic Development, Food Aid, Food Prices, Foreign Aid Reform, Gender, Global Hunger, Good Governance, Hunger Hotspots, Hunger Report, Immigration, Inequality, Latin America, Malnutrition, Maternal and Child Nutrition, Millennium Development Goals, Success in Fighting Hunger, Weblogs, Women's History Month | Comments (0)
The number of hungry people in the world has dropped below 800 million for the first time, according to this year’s State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI) report, released today. The report, authored by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and the World Food Program, takes stock of the progress being made toward global hunger goals.
The report identifies what still needs to be done as the world transitions to the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, which will follow the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) when they sunset this year. In 1996, 182 countries at the World Food Summit committed “… to eradicate hunger in all countries, with an immediate view to reducing the number of undernourished people to half their present level no later than 2015.” The first of eight MDGs, all adopted in 2000, encapsulates this commitment, including the target “cutting in half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by the year 2015.”
So how is the world doing?
The report reviews progress for every country and region. The news is good overall -- improvements outweighed setbacks. But as can be expected with such a broad and ambitious worldwide goal, problem areas remain, and in some regions hunger is still a stubborn problem.
Twenty-five years ago there were a billion hungry people. According to the new SOFI report, this number has now dropped to 795 million. The countries that improved the most had two features in common: strong economic growth that included investments in poor people, agriculture, and food production; and relative political stability. These countries were largely in East Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean. A solid majority of countries (72 of 129) have met the ambitious target of cutting hunger in half.
These are certainly impressive achievements. Consider that natural disasters, civil and regional conflict, and weak governments can damage to poor countries disproportionately. Also, the world population has grown rapidly: it is higher by 1.9 billion people than it was in 1990. Predictions of widespread famine have for the most part not come true, but certainly there have been famines, such as the 2011 one in Somalia that killed at least 100,000 children younger than 5.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s hunger rate is still more than 33 percent, and more African countries (24) are experiencing food insecurity now than in 1990. Hunger rates in countries with continuing crises are more than three times higher than elsewhere, according to SOFI. In Africa and South Asia, “progress has been slow overall, despite success stories at country and sub-regional levels … there is no one size fits all solution.”
This is why sustaining the development work being done in USAID’s flagship hunger and poverty reduction initiative, Feed the Future, is so important. Feed the Future’s focus areas were developed specifically to sustainably reduce global poverty and hunger. It has demonstrated progress in “significantly reduc[ing] both poverty and stunting (a measure of chronic food insecurity)” in countries where it operates, and adequate funding is essential so this progress can continue.
Posted by Scott Bleggi on May 27, 2015 in Africa, Agriculture, Asia, Assets for the Poor, Climate Change, Data to End Hunger, Economic Development, Food Aid, Food Prices, Foreign Aid Reform, Gender, Global Hunger, Good Governance, Hunger Hotspots, Hunger Report, Latin America, Malnutrition, Maternal and Child Nutrition, Millennium Development Goals, Success in Fighting Hunger, Trade, Weblogs | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
We're excited to announce our second annual HelpMeViz Data Vizathon event. On Saturday, May 30, we will partner with HelpMeViz.com and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) to bring back our community of data heroes -- coders, data scientists, designers, and data visualizers -- to help shed light on the elusive problem of hidden hunger in the developing world. We’re especially happy to be expanding this year’s vizathon to two volunteer sites—one on the East Coast in Washington, DC, and the other on the West Coast in San Francisco.
IFPRI and Bread for the World Institute have drawn from several brand new hunger and nutrition data sets from Africa South of the Sahara to develop two data visualization challenges centered on two forms of 'hidden hunger':
Challenge 1: Exposing Hidden Hunger
“The ‘hidden hunger’ due to micronutrient deficiency does not produce hunger as we know it. You might not feel it in the belly, but it strikes at the core of your health and vitality.” -Kul C. Gautam, former deputy executive director of UNICEF
Find a way to bring the problem of hidden hunger out of the shadows. Use the latest global data on micronutrient deficiencies to expose the story of hidden hunger and its massive human costs.
- Demonstrate the mounting costs of hidden hunger (in lost potential, years, GDP, etc.).
- Combine data with graphic art and photos to humanize the problem of hidden hunger, giving it a name and a face.
Challenge 2: Showing How Hunger Feeds Obesity:
Use new data on obesity and body mass index (BMI) to tell the story of obesity’s stunning rise across the developing world and the array of health problems that are beginning to mount as a result. This will mean finding ways to count the economic and health costs of obesity as well as showing the gaps in national healthcare systems being revealed by the rise in obesity.
You can read more details on the data challenges at the event announcement on HelpMeViz.com.
HelpMeViz, IFPRI, and Bread for the World Institute are inviting up to 50 guests to each site on Saturday, May 30, from 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. to work on these two challenges. The Institute will provide the challenge data and space for participants to work. Breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snacks will be provided. Participants will also receive a printed copy of the 2016 Hunger Report, which focuses on hunger and health and will be released in November 2015.
The event will be blogged live on HelpMeViz. We hope that interested people all over the world will want to lend their voice and their skills to respond to these challenges. Data will be made available at the beginning of the event. Visualizations, conversations, and comments from both coasts and elsewhere will be posted to the vizathon’s website in real time.
If you would like to attend in Washington, DC, or San Francisco, click the links below to register.
Participate Online: Register to participate in the HelpMeViz Vizathon online from anywhere!
Photo Credit: Stephan Bachenheimer/World Bank
The sooner the world achieves gender equality, the sooner it will end hunger. Throughout the month of March (Women’s History Month), we have dedicated this blog to showing why this is true. We’ve examined some of the ways that gender discrimination contributes to hunger, and explained the concept of women’s empowerment and why hunger will persist until the barriers to women’s empowerment are removed. But when will women’s empowerment become a reality? And what can we do to speed up progress?
A recently published study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that at current rates of progress, women in the United States will not receive equal pay for equal work until 2058. Few readers of our blog will still be working then— just one obvious sign that pay equity is much too far away. Although these findings are discouraging, the study also indicated that years or even decades can be shaved off the projection with dedicated leadership and the right action steps.
Returning to the 2015 Hunger Report’s main focus on women’s empowerment in developing countries, here are three high-impact actions that will help achieve both gender equality and the end of hunger more quickly.
1. Elect More Women
Women are half of the global population, but hold an average of just 22 percent of seats in national parliaments. Research has found that women in public office at all levels tend to place greater emphasis than men on social services such as education, clean water and sanitation, and nutrition. They are also, not surprisingly, better positioned to understand and advocate for laws and policies that improve the status of women. Gender quotas are one way of ensuring that women’s voices are represented in government, and more than 80 countries have adopted them. Rwanda offers a compelling example. Once women got a foot in the door in that country’s national parliament, they exceeded their “quota” and now hold more than 60 percent of seats.
2. Strengthen Collective Women’s Groups
When marginalized people are free to speak and act collectively, their causes are more likely to be taken seriously by those in power. Beyond government, women can raise their collective voices through labor unions and religious and civil society groups. This can bring change sooner. But in many countries, social norms or even laws bar women from participation in the most influential groups. In Bangladesh and Nepal, women’s efforts to organize labor unions have been suppressed, sometimes violently. This is true particularly in key sectors that pay poorly, such as the garment industry. Yet effective collective bargaining groups represent these women’s best opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty by commanding higher wages and better working conditions.
3. Include Men
As we said in last week’s post, when women flourish, so do men. Evidence repeatedly affirms that empowering women benefits everyone. It adds whole percentage points to economic growth, reduces poverty and hunger, and improves health and nutrition for men, women, and children. But people do not always act according to reason and evidence. Restrictions on a person’s work and productivity based on gender are irrational, but sexist stereotypes and traditions persist at everyone’s expense. The people with the most power to change them – men – appear to be particularly prone to such misconceptions. Gender equality requires that both men and women examine and challenge their perceptions of what is an equitable division of labor. Public policies should not, explicitly or implicitly, reinforce stereotypes that force men into breadwinning roles or women into caregiving roles. Progress requires that men be intentionally, if carefully, welcomed into the discussion. Shared understanding can produce enthusiastic male advocates, and their credibility with other men can speed up social change.
The recommendations in this post were drawn mainly from Chapter 3 of the 2015 Hunger Report. View and download the full Hunger Report and explore stories, infographics, and interactive tools online at hungerreport.org.
Posted by Bread on March 30, 2015 in Africa, Agriculture, Asia, Assets for the Poor, Data to End Hunger, Economic Development, Gender, Global Hunger, Good Governance, Inequality, Latin America, Maternal and Child Nutrition, Success in Fighting Hunger, Trade, U.S. Hunger, Weblogs, Women's History Month | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
In sub-Saharan Africa, a girl with hopes for more than a primary education is unlikely to realize them. For rural girls, the odds are even worse. In a region where a minority of all school children—regardless of gender—even complete lower secondary school (ninth grade), parents must fight to give their daughters an equal chance. This was the experience of Fouzia Dahir, a Kenyan Somali woman whose mother personally shielded her from the social and physical forces that threatened to knock her off the path to a college degree. Fouzia’s story is featured in the 2015 Hunger Report video, just released this week and posted above.
Not only are women and girls the majority of the world’s hungry people, but they are the chief agents the world relies on to help end hunger. Evidence shows that gender discrimination causes hunger, but it also shows that removing gender discrimination leads to benefits that reach every level of society. When women are empowered, families, communities, and even economies are healthier and wealthier. Fouzia’s life and work illuminate this truth. She is the founder of the Northern Organization for Social Empowerment, a non-profit organization in Kenya that advocates for equal opportunities for rural women and girls and equips them to seize those opportunities.
Fouzia’s organization takes direct aim at the largest, most obstinate barriers that stand between rural girls and an education. The most threatening of these is deep poverty, which forces many parents to pull their children out of school to work—simply because the family’s survival depends on it. Scarce economic opportunity and the poverty that results from it exacerbate gender inequality by driving families to make difficult choices about which child gets to go to school. Fouzia’s organization trains rural women to be more productive farmers and connects them to markets so they can earn enough income to send all of their children to school and keep them there.
Social norms pose another pervasive, if invisible, threat to women’s empowerment. Fouzia’s community is no exception. Families who embrace modern education often still hesitate to educate their girls, convinced that their rightful place is in the kitchen. Early marriage is commonplace and virtually always means an end to the child bride’s education. Even girls who manage to evade an early marriage face the next challenge of balancing school and studying with an oppressive burden of domestic work that they alone are expected to shoulder. They must walk miles each way to fetch water, gather firewood, and also do the household cleaning, leaving little or no time for homework. Many eventually drop out of school. This is why Fouzia’s organization works to start conversations among families and between families and schools that encourage a more equitable sharing of household work within the family.
Fouzia is a catalyzing force in her community who is generating very real economic and social returns and making lasting improvements. This would not be possible but for the uncompromising insistence of her mother, herself illiterate, that Fouzia stay in school. Fouzia sees potential similar to her own lost in every young girl denied an education.
You can read Fouzia’s story in her own words and learn more about the importance of education to women’s empowerment by reading the 2015 Hunger Report, When Women Flourish …We Can End Hunger.
Posted by Bread on March 16, 2015 in Africa, Agriculture, Assets for the Poor, Data to End Hunger, Development Assistance, Economic Development, Food Prices, Foreign Aid Reform, Gender, Global Hunger, Good Governance, Hunger Hotspots, Hunger Report, Inequality, Malnutrition, Maternal and Child Nutrition, Millennium Challenge Account, Millennium Development Goals, Religion and Hunger, Success in Fighting Hunger, Trade, Weblogs, Women's History Month | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
As a policy analyst, my life revolves around data related to hunger, poverty and nutrition of mothers and their children. Statistics are the tool of my trade. I use them to report, to convey information, and often to advocate on issues. A few stay with me: 805 million hungry people in the world (one person in nine); 165 million stunted children who will never reach their full potential in life.
In my research for the Institute’s series celebrating Women’s History Month, I came across another statistic that will stay with me for a long time. A study by the respected British medical journal The Lancet found that the United States is one of only eight countries where maternal mortality (death from complications of pregnancy or childbirth) is on the rise. The other countries are Afghanistan, Greece, and several countries in Africa and Central America.
In this country, 18.5 mothers died for every 100,000 births in 2013—almost 800 women died here that year alone. This is double the rate of Canada and triple the rate of the United Kingdom! What is going on here? How is it that women in the United States are dying at a faster rate from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth than in almost any other place in the developed world?
There seem to be several contributing factors. Some of the reported rise in mortality is likely due to more rigorous data collection; the United States is one country where data on almost anything is readily available. Another factor is the rise in the number of pregnant women here who have conditions—such as hypertension and diabetes—that contribute to making their pregnancies “high risk.” More girls with heart or neurological diseases are surviving to adulthood—good news, but they remain at higher risk during pregnancy and childbirth.
Perhaps the most shocking statistic is that American women of color – particularly African Americans -- are three times more likely to die as a result of pregnancy or giving birth than their white counterparts. Higher poverty rates, which carry numerous consequences such as more chronic health problems and less access to prenatal care, are a major reason that women of color in our country run much higher risks in becoming mothers.
There is a parallel between efforts to end maternal mortality and efforts to end global hunger. We know that a lack of available food is not the problem. It is getting access to nutritious food — a particular problem for pregnant women and children – that is a major problem. Affording food and reaching a place where it is available pose the biggest challenges. Researchers have found the same to be true in efforts to end maternal mortality -- particularly during or shortly after childbirth. The major problems are affordability and access to skilled care. This is true in the United States as in many developing countries.
The situation is even worse in “fragile states,” developing countries suffering armed conflict or civil war while also confronting high rates of food insecurity.
In its State of the World’s Mothers 2014 (SOWM) report, the international organization Save the Children says: “These countries and territories (more than 50 in number) lack resilience to emergencies and face chronic underlying challenges, including extreme poverty, weak infrastructure, and poor governance. In these settings, children and mothers face an everyday emergency, whether or not a humanitarian crisis is officially recognized by the international system.”
During this Women’s History Month, I encourage you to read Save’s SOWM report and take a look at the statistics on maternal mortality compiled by the World Bank and the United Nations World Health Organization. As a result of a concerted effort by governments, international donors, and civil society, we are making remarkable progress toward the goal of ending hunger. Much less progress has been made toward the fifth Millennium Development Goal of reducing maternal mortality by three-fourths. An equally concerted and collaborative effort, accompanied by sustained funding for healthcare programs in the United States and overseas, particularly in fragile states, is needed to help women survive as they secure humanity’s future by bearing children.
Posted by Scott Bleggi on March 04, 2015 in A Climate to End Hunger, Africa, Agriculture, Asia, Assets for the Poor, Data to End Hunger, Development Assistance, Economic Development, Food Aid, Food Prices, Foreign Aid Reform, Gender, Global Hunger, Good Governance, Hunger Hotspots, Hunger Report, Immigration, Inequality, Latin America, Malnutrition, Maternal and Child Nutrition, Millennium Development Goals, Success in Fighting Hunger, Trade, U.S. Hunger, Weblogs, Women's History Month | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Editor’s note: This post kicks off our celebration of Women’s History Month (March). Throughout our 2015 Hunger Report, When Women Flourish … We Can End Hunger, as well as in much of the Institute’s other analytical work, we emphasize the necessity of women’s empowerment and gender equity – not only as a matter of individual rights, but also as an absolute necessity for further progress against hunger and malnutrition. The link between gender discrimination and hunger has proven persistent both in the United States and globally. This month we present stories, graphics, and analysis to help show the way forward on both fronts – gender equity on one hand, and ending hunger, malnutrition, and food insecurity on the other.
Consider two children from poor households living in an Indian city. They are both 7 years old. They live in the same neighborhood and are both excelling in mathematics at the same primary school, showing every sign of a bright future. But one of these children is more likely than the other to still be in poverty as an adult, simply because she is a girl.
People are born into or fall into poverty for many reasons. But the reason a bright young girl is more likely to remain there than a bright young boy has everything to do with empowerment. Empowerment is what is needed when members of a society lack bargaining power—the ability to negotiate favorable economic outcomes for themselves. When women and girls lack bargaining power, they are denied the opportunity to develop and use their gifts so they can support themselves and their families.
Some of the most common ways of increasing one’s bargaining power include getting more education, participating fully in the economy (which requires, for example, access to financial services such as a bank account or credit), and benefiting from basic social services such as health care. The availability of such “bargaining power builders” varies widely from country to country, but disempowerment means that women and girls almost always have less access to them than men and boys. In fact, our schoolchildren example may be overly optimistic, because it ignores the likely possibility that, even at age 7, the schoolgirl has already encountered home- or community-level barriers to her health, nutrition, and/or education.
It’s worth noting that neither women nor men living in poverty have much economic bargaining power, especially in developing countries where the vast majority of the population does low-paying, low-productivity work. But even within the constraints of poverty, working conditions for men and women are far from equal: women suffer many more forms of discrimination, which worsen the effects of poverty on their lives.
Empowering women is not only the right thing to do—it is an economic no-brainer. Excluding women from an economy is forgoing the efforts and talents of half the workforce. Studies consistently show that increasing women’s and girls’ bargaining power is one of the most effective ways to lift families out of poverty and boost economic growth, because women are more likely than men to invest their earnings back into the well-being of their families.
Discrimination that establishes and reinforces women’s lower status in society starts within the family and extends through social norms and national laws. Women all over the world have struggled for many years to empower themselves by creating change in all of these areas, sometimes aided by their governments and/or male allies – and there have been many improvements. Check back on Institute Notes later this week for a look at what has been achieved so far and what remains to be done.
The World Health Organization recently updated its international estimates on violence against women, once again confirming the appalling truth: one in three women (35 percent) experiences violence. Thirty percent of women worldwide experience violence at the hands of an intimate partner. The 2015 Hunger Report, When Women Flourish…We Can End Hunger, explains how violence against women perpetuates hunger:
Gender-based violence is one of the clearest manifestations of women’s disempowerment, and it is directly associated with hunger. When a farmer is beaten so badly that she ends up physically disabled or with a severe mental illness, the household has lost farming skills that are crucial to ensuring its food security.
Gender-based violence occurs throughout a woman’s lifetime, though it’s more likely to take certain forms at certain ages. Women aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, motor accidents, war, or malaria. Armed conflict, as we would expect, puts women at greater risk of gender-based violence. In the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, 29 of every 1,000 women were raped in 2006 and 2007 alone.
Social norms that treat gender-based violence as normal may well be the greatest barrier to progress toward ending it. The fact that violence against women is socially acceptable is one of the main reasons that survivors do not seek help and support. They are afraid to, knowing that they can expect little or no support from families, friends, or even authorities whose responsibility it is to protect them if they report cases of rape or domestic violence. As in many other contexts, victims are frequently blamed for provoking the violence.
Police officers who investigate a woman’s charge of abuse belong to their own societies, after all, and they reflect their communities’ beliefs. Thus, in a survey of male police officers in India, all of those interviewed admitted that they believe a husband has a right to rape his wife.
Changing centuries-old social norms takes time, and must be locally driven if it’s going to work. But U.S. development assistance can play a catalyzing role by building the capacity of local people to speak up and step out. The Hunger Report offers some sound examples of instances when this has worked. One is the story of Changu Siwawa of Botswana, who participated in the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders—a U.S. led initiative that brought together 500 exceptional young African leaders to share solutions to the continent’s most pressing social ills. You can read Changu’s full story here on the 2015 Hunger Report website.
Get updates on issues and actions to take on behalf of hungry people.